Spring is here, which means all around the country graduating college seniors are getting ready to embark into the great unknown, AKA, the “real world.” Congratulations, graduates—things are about to get more exciting, confusing, heartbreaking, thrilling, etc… than you could have ever imagined.
With my five-year reunion just a month away, I’ve been thinking about everything I knew then and have learned since, and all the assumptions I made about life, careers, etc. along the way.
I’ve still got a lot more to learn, but here are just a few lessons I’ve learned since my own college graduation:
1. Mentors are all around you.
In college, and even early into your career, you hear of seemingly mythical creatures—“mentors”—whose entry into your life can change its course completely. It’s true; a mentor can go a long way in helping you define, pursue, and reach success, both professionally and personally. But don’t get distracted looking for unicorns. Not every mentor is a CEO contributing to Forbes, or a senior exec in your company. Mentors don’t even have to be older than you! Right now, your peers are your friends and classmates. But your peers can very well become your biggest advocates, greatest advice-givers, and most supportive mentors. It’s important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.
2. Outside perspective is helpful, but the decision-making is up to you.
It’s easy to get more indecisive the older you get—decisions get bigger and more frequent, and it’s normal to seek out advice from others, especially those who’ve been there before. But make sure you don’t use that as a crutch to avoid making a decision. Gather feedback, but move forward on your own terms.
3. Your plans will change in ways you can’t possibly anticipate. Embrace adventure and keep an open mind.
When I graduated college, I was sure I’d become a professor. I took a gap year to move to Paris, learn French, and work in the art world, but I always knew I would come back to the States for a PhD in art history. Well, I did come back, but I didn’t finish the PhD or stay in the art world! As it turns out, quitting that PhD program to jump into the startup world was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It took a year of hand-wringing to do it, but now I wouldn’t go back even if you paid me. (And they were paying me!) Point being: you have no idea what you want yet (even if you are certain you do). Your interests, friends, career path—all of that will change with time. And that’s a good thing. It’s called growth!
4. With all those changes, you may find yourself in a perpetually searching state of mind. Note to graduating seniors: therapy is a good thing. Nothing to be embarrassed about or shy of.
When I was younger, I assumed therapy was something only certain people “needed.” Then I outgrew that and realized therapy is a luxury! It’s actually someone’s job to help guide you in your quest for self-improvement! If you can afford it, that’s a luxury you may want to consider exploring. If you’re not ready for that, don’t be shy about picking up a few self-help books. You’ll learn that those aren’t embarrassing either. Think about it: How many good business books are really self-help books in disguise? Leadership comes from within, so don’t be afraid to work on it.
5. We’re all just winging it.
Your parents, your boss, your boss’s boss—we’re all just winging it. Sure, as we get older and more experienced, we become fountains of knowledge and specialists in our industry. But we’re still learning, growing, and making magic as best we can. Think about all the senior execs who’ve had their industries disrupted by social media and advances in technology. They’ve had to learn so much in so little time, or risk getting left behind. Do you think the first brands on Facebook understood how to leverage it for marketing purposes? Based on some industry knowledge, and intuition, yes! But did they have a playbook to go by? Nope, and that’s okay! Take risks, test new waters, wing it. You will land exactly where you’re supposed to be, right when you’re supposed to be there.
Congrats, grads. You’ve got this.
What do you wish you’d known when you graduated from college? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Shama Kabani, CEO & Founder of The Marketing Zen Group, what she wish someone had told her when she first graduated!
Photo courtesy of NPR